Every year in parks and recreation departments across the country, coaches and supervisors take center stage as a new group of athletes files in to participate in swimming lessons, basketball camps, gymnastics, and many other adrenalin-pumping activities.
Exactly what is expected of a supervisor of these programs? Supervision includes monitoring not only the athletes, but also the facility and equipment, and the environment around the activity (e.g., distractions).
In almost every lawsuit claiming negligence, lack of supervision is included as a cause of injury. Proper supervision is a legal duty for all instructors and perhaps the most crucial factor in a safe environment in the gym.
Stand Where You Can See Everyone
Best practices dictate that all participants remain within the supervisor’s field of vision at all times. In practical terms, the instructor needs to decide how to provide direct supervision (teaching or spotting a skill) while maintaining indirect (visual and auditory) supervision.
Typically the instructor selects the activity with the highest risk and maintains closer and more direct supervision there, while other students are independent of the supervisor’s direct attention, but remain within visual contact.
Look For Hazards
The first task of supervision is to remove any hazards. Require all instructors to inspect the facility, the equipment, and the environment before any activity is allowed. Remind them to be aware of any potential problems, tripping hazards, obstructions, etc., paying special attention to walkways and traffic patterns between events.
Setting physical limits also helps; however, physical limits should not exceed the ability to see and hear all that is going on.
Knowing the activity and location in advance can aid in limiting potential challenges.
Recognizing participants as well as their weaknesses or strengths also may assist in curbing problems. For instance, a student who is prone to overconfidence may exceed his or her abilities and suffer an injury.
One key factor in maintaining quality supervision is to clearly set and explain expectations daily with students prior to any activity.
Try to be aware of what may happen. Many times, individuals miss the signals of potential problems ahead. If an instructor is aware of a group’s or individual’s moods, he or she can step in to help steer the group in the right direction.
Use a head count every few minutes to ensure accountability. It’s difficult to keep a group together, and there always seems to be someone wandering off. The instructor should try to be in position to react quickly.
Policies and procedures also should be in place for any transfer of supervision. Students are the responsibility of the gym until they leave the property and supervision is transferred to another authority (e.g., parent/guardian).
Know the limits of supervision. If there are too many students to supervise properly, stop the activity and ask for assistance.
A supervisor should never be alone with a child. Ask another employee or a parent to stay until the last child is picked up.
If possible, put some of the responsibility of supervision on the participants; very rarely, however, does this happen initially with a new group. It is even less likely to happen for younger groups. It can work, however, if expectations are set from the beginning and then reinforced throughout the program. This process starts in small ways.
New teachers are often concerned they will not be seen as “fun people” if they introduce expectations, rules, etc. too early in their contact with students. Be assured there is no contradiction between being an enthusiastic, positive, fun teacher who also enforces the rules.
Michael Taylor has been around gymnastics since 1968 as a competitor, coach, judge, club owner, director, recreational athlete, and administrator. He is currently the recreation and facilities director and risk manager for a small Silicon Valley City in northern California. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.